by Christiane Bird
Travel writer Bird (Neither East nor West: One Woman's Journey Through the Islamic Republic of Iran) provides a compelling glimpse of Kurds and the difficulties they face with this blend of travelogue and history lesson. The book's title comes from a Kurdish poem about the Kurds' determination to be masters of their own lands, an effort that brings about "a thousand sighs, a thousand tears, a thousand revolts, a thousand hopes." Bird deftly describes each of those aspects of Kurdistani culture, from the sighs and tears of women who offer Bird both flavorful dinners and wrenching stories of loss, to the hopes of Kurdish artists who believe their ethnic group's artistic traditions can survive beyond war. Where Bird focuses most, however, is the revolts that have plagued the Kurds for decades. The largest ethnic group in the world without a state of their own, the Kurds number between 25 and 30 million, and live in an arc of land that stretches through Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Iran and parts of the former Soviet Union. As Bird travels through Kurdistan (a country that isn't on any map), she meets an array of people, from scholars to bus drivers. Each story of conflict, poverty, homelessness and suffering is like a brushstroke in a larger portrait of the Kurdish experience. Bird's talent for blending reportage with illuminating tales from individuals makes this a notable and much needed work. B&w photos, map.